Pipeline Spill in a Small Arkansas Town May Shift Opinions on Keystone XL

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As we anxiously await President Obama’s decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, new concerns have emerged regarding detection of leaks and other potential hazards the pipeline could pose to public health. Last year alone roughly 364 pipelines had spills in the U.S., leaving a total of 54,000 barrels of oil to clean up, according to PBS, quoting the Department of Transportation.

An increasing number of Texas and Oklahoma residents worry about pipeline spills. One, of the more recent ones occurred in March, when ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline near Mayflower, Ark., ruptured and flooded streets and yards in nearby neighborhoods.

Although ExxonMobil said nearby lakes and air quality weren’t affected, local scientists remain skeptical. A 2010 spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River left residual amounts of tar sands in the river bed.

As in the 2010 spill in Michigan, residents of Mayflower immediately began reporting health complications–including headaches and coughing fits—and worry about lingering effects from benzene, linked to respiratory illness and cancer. A month after the Arkansas spill, the Pegasus Pipeline again ruptured in the neighboring state of Missouri, adding to the count of incidents this year. Some justice may be served on behalf of Mayflower residents, as last week Arkansas’s attorney general filed suit against ExxonMobil for improper waste storage and water contamination.

These disasters serve as a chain of omens as Keystone XL’s approval looms near. Despite the spills, TransCanada refuses to adopt additional safety measures such as infrared leak detection equipment for helicopters performing fly-overs, according to Bloomberg, even after TransCanada found a series of “anomalies” and dents in the pipeline, requiring workers to dig up segments near Douglass, Texas, part of the final stretch of the project.

Now, on the edge of a landmark decision, President Obama has, as New York Times reporter John Broder put it, “a rare opportunity to set the parameters of the energy debate for the rest of his term.” Many, including former Obama aides, former Vice President Al Gore, and even Nobel Prize winner the Dalai Lama have all called for the president to veto the project. Any appeasement of environmental groups with a smaller, side deal by the administration cannot offset the damage the pipeline will reap on communities and ecosystems.

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